Up Close With Lancia’s Rare And Legendary D.50
Photography by: Federico Bajetti
The historic Grand Prix del Valentino held in Turin was recently held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Alberto Ascari’s win in 1955. His car? A Lancia D.50.
In the car world, everyone loves to celebrate anniversaries, and they’re often special things to witness. For this particular occasion, visitors had the privilege of hearing the sound of one of the two original Lancia D.50 left in the world, a car raced originally by Luigi “Gigi” Villoresi.
A Lancia D.50 roaring in the streets of Turin has more drama to me than any Formula 1 car: no other vehicle can quite compare the sight and the sound of such an iconic car, roaring at full throttle in the rain.
I clearly do not want to define a “hierarchy” among F1 greats, but there is a certain kind of interest and enthusiasm in seeing such an iconic Lancia in the same place where it triumphed six decades ago. To make matters more perplexing, the D.50 may be the greatest car ever to have not won a World Championship. In my estimation, it is a monument to Turin’s proud and rich automotive heritage.
There are only two original D.50s left in the world, and the one present at the Valentino Historic GP was the one that came second during the last edition of that race, in 1955. It was driven by Luigi Villoresi, and back in its time, it was a true technological marvel and incredibly competitive. Its career under the Lancia name was short but intense, and scored wins with no other than Alberto Ascari, a true ace behind the wheel.
The D.50 was another one of Vittiorio Jano’s masterpieces and an advanced car: a offset dry sump V8, transaxle construction and lateral tanks, a solution later adopted in sport prototype cars. This F1 was designed and put on its wheels in just four months: first sketches were drawn in August.
During the event, I had the chance to talk to the driver and keeper of the D.50 for the Collezione Storica Lancia, Raffaele Terlizzi. I had a brief chat with him regarding his experience in this incredible car.
Raffaele Terlizzi: “It’s a very difficult car, especially because it has a throttle control in the middle and a very far right brake pedal. You can’t heel and toe, so you have to quickly double declutch first and then brake. In a car like this, you can shift without using the clutch, but for the sake of keeping it healthy we do not use this method. Consider that with 200 liters (52.3 U.S. gallons) of gas onboard, the car is constantly changing weights and the driver has to constantly adapt to it and change the driving style.”
Can you tell us why does it have an offset-mounted engine?
RT: “The V8 has a 12 degree inclination over the longitudinal axle because a side-mounted drive shaft lowers the car. The driver doesn’t sit on it like in the Ferrari Squalo, but rather beside it. If you look closely, the D.50 was lower than the competitors.
It is also a very well-balanced car to drive, thanks to the transaxle construction and the fact that it holds 30 kg (66 lbs) of oil in the back. It has a lot of power and skinny rear wheels: driving it today in the wet was a real challenge! The back was constantly swinging around, and was difficult to keep it straight.
Remember that to keep this car running, you have to use and maintain it regularly. Remember: with a D.50, you have to often change the spark plugs. Consider that before starting it up, the car has to pressurize 30 kg (66 lbs) of oil, and spark plugs easily get wet by gasoline. To avoid this, we always remove the spark plugs, turn the engine a few times, and then re-install them and start it up.”
As I take a walk through the paddock, I wonder how it felt 60 years ago witnessing a victory of a Lancia in its home town, one of the World’s Automotive Capitals in a beautiful circuit. I believe it could have been a terrific experience.
If the D.50 was the perfect attraction back in 1955, and the Circuito del Valentino was the perfect race to put this car into action. The track was originally created in 1932 as a motorcycle track, and it was later intended as a car Grand Prix after the R.A.C.I. (Real Automobil Club Italia) put pressure on the authorities to race cars to take on the track. The main reason behind this event was that Turin had no major event that could honor its automotive traditions. It was held for seven times from 1937 to 1955, and was one of the most beautiful tracks of its time. it wasn’t fast like Monza or the Mille Miglia, but it was challenging and had one of the most beautiful settings, the Parco del Valentino. The cars raced inside the park, which is close to the river Po, and it’s one of Turin’s most beautiful places. The circuit is a combination of mid- to low-speed corners and two short straights.
During its inclusion on the Grand Prix calendar, the Circuito del Valentino proved to be very successful, with record spectator attendance The Historic GP of 2015 shared almost nothing with the original track, but it was a unbelievable experience. I am definitely looking forward to come next year.